In a new journal article published recently in The Milbank Quarterly, researchers from Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health discuss the results of a recently conducted study that assessed the current levels of engagement by businesses in a corporate Culture of Health (CoH). Through the research, a tool was developed to measure private sector engagement in health and well-being across four dimensions and a baseline depiction of CoH activities was established.

The national survey of 1,017 private sector organizations assessed current levels of engagement in a CoH, measured in terms of four dimensions, employee, environmental, consumer, and community health, and the extent to which businesses promote these dimensions through a series of possible actions. The study also explored potential explanations for advancements in each area.

“The private sector has the opportunity to play a large role in advancing health and well-being, but to date most research on this topic has focused on large companies and just a few issues,” said Robert Huckman, Albert J. Weatherhead III Professor of Business Administration at HBS, and one of the paper’s authors. “Finding a way to systematically describe the private sector’s engagement in health and well-being is a critical step in understanding where we are today and creating a roadmap for businesses in the future.”

Based on the results of the survey the paper stated that ultimately, creating a CoH — like all culture change — is an evolutionary process. Such culture change requires visible artifacts, such as language in a mission statement and inclusion in a strategic plan, to highlight health as an organizational priority that shapes beliefs and leads to action.

“Examining the actions companies take related to the four dimensions in light of their stated company missions and strategic plans allows us to better measure their commitment to creating a culture of health,” said first author of the study Michael Anne Kyle, a Ph.D. candidate in health policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Having a tool to better quantify the perceived value of a culture of health to companies will enable more robust research and analysis in this area moving forward.”

“Overall, the private sector is taking steps to foster health and well-being, but there is still room for growth, even among those companies that are already extremely active in this area,” said Harvard Chan School’s Robert Blendon, the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health, a professor of health policy and political analysis, the senior associate dean for policy translation and leadership development, and a co-author. “By strengthening the business case for a corporate CoH we should see an increase in private sector investments in health and well-being, but it will take a group effort, with individual businesses, groups, industries and regulators all having the potential to improve corporate engagement and impact.”

Additional analysis, including details on the actions taken by businesses in each of the four dimensions, obstacles to action and variation in action among business can be found in the full article on The Milbank Quarterly online.

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